Not quite Born to Run.

I was the Fat (or should I say pleasantly plump) kid at school and I wouldn’t say I liked to run. I didn’t buy into the whole running craze until I was in my late twenties. I recall cross country at school and religiously every year, pretending to be sick or simply hiding in a bush when we had to assemble at the starting line. It was only a 1 mile run around the rugby pitches, but as a 14-year-old it just didn’t register as something I wanted to do. When I finally give in to exercise, it started with rugby at school followed by a bit of club rugby after. As I lost the weight, my speed massively increased. However, this still didn’t make me want to run. The idea of running just for ‘shits and giggles’ was madness. That is until I tried to fluff my ego.

I heard about a thing called a marathon and at that stage having played rugby for several years and being a regular Gym bro I felt that was enough experience to do one successfully. I sourced a pair of running shoes and bought a book which changed my whole outlook on the sport, ‘Born to Run’ by Christopher McDougall. I had zero experience at running, but I had chased an egg-shaped object around a field for 80 mins every week, other than that weights were life and cardio was for losers. However, I now had a new insight into barefoot running through McDougall’s musings of a secret running tribe. As I dawned my box fresh New Balance Minimus, I left the house and started to run around the block. The block quickly turned into the coast, which quickly turned into the town. I had well and truly caught the bug for running. I was now running three ten milers a week with only a month to train for the marathon. I realised that more training was needed, but I was confident that I would be match fit for the start line and my first long-distance event.

Race day came. I had very little sleep from the night before having read somewhere about carb loading, i.e. eating a lot of pasta for higher energy reserves for the next day. I think that just left me bloated and unable to get my recommended sleep. I sponged a lift of my parents up to Belfast City Centre, my race number pinned to my chest and a pre-workout drink (Jack3D) poured into a fruit shoot bottle (so I didn’t have to carry a bottle around with me). The most underprepared I had been for anything, but thanks to McDougall, all I had to do ‘was run.’ The pre-starter adrenaline rush was intense. I realised I was not too fond of it. The whole experience of a set event reinforced the fact even more that I was a lone wolf, running was for me but in mass crowds and going to the beat of someone else’s drum was not my thing. I can see the draw and the buzz everyone had was electric, but the draw of going it alone intrigued me more. I ran the course at a good pace and at mile 20mile I realised I only had 10K left. 10K was my go-to distance, I had a set route around the coast, and I knew I could do the 6miles without a problem. It was also at this point I realised that I had massively held back on the pace. I had 6 miles left and a lot of energy. I had got passed that horrible hill section which any Belfast marathon runner knows, so I was home and dry. ‘Stick the boot’ down for the next 40 minutes, and you’re finished.

It is at this point I want to talk about shoes. First and foremost, you know when people say don’t wear new shoes to a race, you need to break them in, this is true. You see the way they also say don’t wear minimalist shoes when running on a hard surface for three-plus hours? Well, they do, or at least I do. Minimal shoes are fantastic don’t get me wrong, they make you feel more in touch with the earth, but I think they are more suited ‘to the earth’ and not concrete especially for extended periods. I figured I loved the idea more than the practicality of the barefoot shoes. For the record, I did look into other brands, and went quite the opposite and went for HOKAs, which are a massively cushioned shoe. The joys of running are over time you find out what works for you, and that is all that is important.

Now back to the race, I was able to hold a good pace for the remaining 10K, actually passing a lot of running club dudes with their small vests and short shorts. I can imagine they were cursing me as I rocked a vest and baggy basketball shorts and left them in my dust. Mile 25 was worth the whole thing for me, and out of nowhere, I was flooded with emotion. I knew how big a job this marathon was and for me to get this close to finishing had me welling up. I didn’t expect this at all, my eyes filled up, I struggled to swallow past the massive lump in my throat, and I started to smile from ear to ear. I loved it. The whole day was class, the sprint finish against some bloke wanting to pip me at the post (I won) and the massive underwhelming feeling as I crossed the line not to be met by a medal or a tinfoil sheet but to be handed a packet of Tayto cheese and onion crisps by some PR team. I do love a packet of Tayto, but sugar or massive trophy or blanket was a bit more important to me at that point. 26miles in the bag, an enormous ego boost and now the seed planted for bigger and better, FML.

Since running the marathon all those years back, I did gravitate away from the team side of it. I also stayed clear of event based running. I loved the lone wolf ethos and although I would encourage you to find out what works for you I would also encourage some headspace, lone time and just general running hours clocked with just you and nature. I have ran many impromptu marathons around our beautiful coast, I have even upped the miles to hit a 50K (31miles) on two separate occasions and you know what it felt fine. Maybe that is the future, find my tunes, start the watch and just run until I get bored. Remind you of a film? Well maybe life is like a box of chocolates afterall.


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